Imagine owning over a thousand vehicles, but having no debt. There’s no bank asking you for a monthly payment. They are all yours to do with as you please.
What would you do with all these cars?
In the world’s second largest auction market, the answer is brutally simple.
“Sell ’em all!”
Four auctioneers spend roughly three hours every Wednesday in Dallas, Texas doing exactly that. In less than 45 seconds on average, every single vehicle John Clay Wolfe owns gets sold to the highest bidder.
Wolfe is the founder of GiveMeTheVIN.com, one of the largest car-buying services around. He’s a long-time dealer and radio personality who has to fast-talk his way through his radio show and a 1,000-vehicle auction that takes place every Wednesday.
Each Wednesday he’ll receive a thousand checks. Sometimes he wins. Sometimes he loses. Then next Wednesday, he rolls another thousand cars and trucks across the auction block and John does it all over again.
This is the free market that Wolfe and an army of professional buyers have created out of thin air. It’s like the circus, but with popular cars and trucks instead of trapeze artists and elephants. Every week he gets to see the nicest of Lamborghinis and the most heavily modified of Hummers turn from low mileage rolling creme puffs to a big fat pile of greenbacks.
These days, with cars and trucks in short supply, John usually makes a net profit. But just a year ago when I first met him at an auction that handles all the Tesla trade-ins on the east coast, he was losing millions.
“Once the lockdowns happened I had to yell to my buyers, “For the love of God! Stop buying!’. We had to sell when nobody else would. Honda. General Motors. Nissan. They wouldn’t sell cars and take the loss. We decided to keep the auctions open. We needed the money and the auctions ended up giving us the key to a free market.”
In the auto auction business, when you’re the highest bidder of a car or truck, you get to be the new owner of that vehicle. Along with anything that may fall off of it or overheat from the auction block to the repair shop.
Wolfe gets to inherit all the cars with outer and inner beauty, along with those hopeless turds that are rolling catastrophes. Inspections. Appraisals. And most of all, the unavoidable surprises that come whenever you buy any used car is a big part of the brutality of this free market.
“There are no bad cars! Just bad prices for my cars!”
Wolfe has to be his own bookie when it comes to buying all these cars. He has a radio show, which helps with publicity, and he also has a small army of professional buyers scouring deals from Connecticut to California. There is also one more surprise to the challenge of making all of this successful.
Mobility. John is a paraplegic, which limits his ability in some respects. But it also helps him concentrate on figuring out all the unique pieces that make an auction successful.
“Sometimes you see so much bad in life that you realize that what you need to do right now is frankly easy. Even if you’re in stress city. Once you close the door and put the key away your work is done.”
The hard part has always been feeding this 1,000-vehicle beast every Wednesday morning. In a dealmaking world that has been all about in-person bidding and handshakes for centuries, Wolfe now has to pierce an online tomb of solitude.
“Auctions only work in the long run if the buyers and sellers can find a way to win.”
Most new and used car dealers now buy all their vehicles remotely and have to make expensive decisions within seconds.
Wolfe has to sometimes make an offer that can’t be refused to make a vehicle go away. Free transport of the sold vehicle that can sometimes be north of a thousand dollars. Ironclad guarantees on $100,000+ vehicles. The goal is to come out on the positive side where the money is made, and the new owner is happy.
Every car sold, even if it’s sold in less than 45 seconds, requires that you figure out how to create the urgency to buy immediately. It’s like speed chess. You make your move, but with Ferraris and Teslas instead of queens and knights.
For John Clay Wolfe, this Wednesday will be just like another Wednesday under the auctioneer’s hammer. A day when a thousand cars will get sold in a single setting… and the profit or loss will be piled straight onto another thousand cars.
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